Chapter 28:

Vol. 2, Ch. 3: To Be a Rock Star among the All-Stars

The Integrity of the Super Club [Beta version]

The Big Tower was the tallest structure on the Southbound Thugwood High School campus, being twelve stories tall and full of hundreds of self-study rooms and ambiguous facilities. The layout spiraled up from the bottom; each floor was a donut shape with staircases leading to the next floor, and the center was a huge open space that allowed people to see the building’s top ceiling of glass from the bottom level in the lobby. It was a dangerous layout as someone could topple over an upper floor’s railing and fall to the bottom, but it was architecturally too beautiful for anyone to care.Bookmark here

Here, a footrace was about to begin.Bookmark here

This particular race was to start at the twelfth and top floor and wind its way to the bottom, using the walkway and stairs, not the elevators or zip lines. Footraces were among the most popular events for the AthletaCom in every school because the students were free to determine the course beforehand, which was often disputed over as everyone had their own ideas for courses, but a simple fistfight or hair-pulling match (which also counted toward points earned) most commonly settled those disputes.Bookmark here

Rover exited the elevator on the twelfth floor to find himself facing a horde of students crowding around the starting line. He pushed through, nobody willing to step aside as he squeezed past, giving him sneers and scowls and muttering insults.Bookmark here

“Rover!”Bookmark here

Something soft and luscious fell onto his head, making him collapse under a layer of cozy smells and cushy flesh he could happily die beneath. Quintegrity’s cheerful expression filled his vision as she covered him—this girl was his sky, and he was the dirt groveling beneath her horizons.Bookmark here

His knees forfeited their strength, so Quintegrity had to lift him to his feet, and she wrapped him in a hug.Bookmark here

“I’m so glad you came to see me in my time of trials!” she said as Rover turned into a babbling ragdoll in her smothering embrace. “After watching you struggle with all your AR matches, the time has come for you to witness me crush these wimps alive! Ha-ha-ha! Ahh…just kidding. They’re all strong in their own ways, too.”Bookmark here

She smiled at the glaring crowd of contestants and spectators who were trying to kill Rover with their looks.Bookmark here

“Chin up, everyone!” she told them as she cradled her spineless boyfriend in her arms. “Get in touch with your inner powers! And if you haven’t had the Super Club’s power ramen, then your inner powers will never reach beyond their maximum potential! Don’t settle for anything less than one hundred one percent!”Bookmark here

Quintegrity let go of Rover. He fell to the floor. She picked him up again, and his knees somehow locked to keep him upright. When Rover’s senses returned, he took his girlfriend by the wrists—they were so warm and soft and could probably stop a speeding cement train.Bookmark here

“Quintegrity,” he said, looking into her soft mulberry eyes.Bookmark here

“Yes, Rover?” she asked with a big smile.Bookmark here

He leaned in and whispered, “Please don’t mop the floor with them…okay?”Bookmark here

“I’ll do what I want!”Bookmark here

Rover sighed with a smile. “Yeah…I know.”Bookmark here

“Don’t worry,” she told him, now taking his wrists in her hands. “I want to encourage them. It’s all about balance, right?”Bookmark here

“Um, if you say so.”Bookmark here

“I do say so. Think of me as a pace car and a cheerleader at the same time.”Bookmark here

“…That’s…a hard visual.”Bookmark here

“Don’t visualize it.” She pressed her palm on his chest, and Rover felt his quickening heartbeat against her touch, as if his heart was in her hand. “Just feel it.” Her eyes connected with his, embedded inside them—their gazes tangled and tumbled together. “Do you understand what I mean?”Bookmark here

“Feel the funk.” The words came from Rover’s mouth before he could think. His pulse fell into a steady tempo, keeping time with the connectedness he shared with Quintegrity and, consequentially, the entire universe.Bookmark here

“Yes. Because your answer required no thought, only heart, I know that you know what I mean. Remember that every song in the world is on our playlists, and right now,”—she massaged the underside of Rover’s wrists with her thumbs, feeling his pulse— “you and I are playing the same tune, having started it at the exact same time.”Bookmark here

Of all the confident things Rover had ever said—of all the certainty and arrogance he’d carried with him through numerous occasions—none equaled his confidence and honesty in that moment when he told Quintegrity, “You’re the weirdest girl I’ve ever met.”Bookmark here

For a few seconds, she stared at him. Then her lips curled. Then her eyes sparked. Finally, the giggling followed.Bookmark here

“Thank you.” Such heartwarming sincerity! She backed away, keeping her eyes on Rover, her smile small, but a domain of infatuation within her eyes alone. “I have to get to the starting line now…”Bookmark here

It could’ve been Rover’s imagination, but in that instant, Quintegrity never seemed more smitten.Bookmark here

Returning that smitten smile, he told her, “Then you’d better go.”Bookmark here

That was when their eye contact was thereby severed. Still, Rover kept his gaze on her, as if the girl was still looking back at him. Somehow, he assumed she was.Bookmark here

Quintegrity took her place in the starting formation, standing in the back behind the other sixty students. The tall, tanned girl next to her was Rebekah Paddaloonga, the all-star track team runner who was a descendant of simeonated cheetahs, making her the fastest recorded adolescent, bipedal organism in Thugwood. Aside from her natural cheetah-print hair color, cat ears, and tail, she looked exactly like a human, but the wilderness of the savanna still prowled through her veins.Bookmark here

Tying her cheetah-patterned hair into a cheetahtail behind her head, she gave Quintegrity a crude smirk.Bookmark here

“Your despicable, cheater boyfriend isn’t joining us?” she purred.Bookmark here

“Nope!”Bookmark here

“We can’t have two cheat-ahs in one race! Yar-har-har!”Bookmark here

“Shut up, Daremont!” Rebekah howled, seeing the punctual joke-maker’s banana bunch-like hair and creamy, collared shirt among the spectators. “Jeez, he’s everywhere… I guess they don’t call him the King of Puns for nothing…”Bookmark here

“All participants in position!” Mr. Arithmetic Teacher announced through his stylus megaphone. When everything looked to be in order, he aimed the sawed-off 7-gauge shotgun in the air. “Ready…set…”Bookmark here

*BANG!*Bookmark here

*Pitter-patter pitter-patter*Bookmark here

*Pitter-patter pitter-patter*Bookmark here

The sound of stampeding footsteps carried into the highest rises of the glass ceiling, akin to falling rain accompanied by the wind of cheering and whooping from the spectators.Bookmark here

When the runners completed the lap on the twelfth floor and approached the staircase leading down, Rover could see Rebekah had the lead. Quintegrity hadn’t made it past the rear half of participants, though.Bookmark here

She’s much faster than this.Bookmark here

Rover watched them descend the spiral floors to the tenth story, and the zip lines were already being crowded by spectators to descend to the lower levels. He packed into the elevator with other students when it became hard to see the race below. When Rover arrived on the eighth floor, Rebekah had lost the lead, sharing the first five positions with some other runners. Behind them, Quintegrity leapt down the stairs in three bounds, catching up quick.Bookmark here

Seems like she’s pacing things well. Can’t be too obvious with her overwhelming advantage. But it’s weird that Rebekah fell behind, being a cheetah person and our top track runner.Bookmark here

“Rebekah sure is tough!” said a girl with braces next to Rover.Bookmark here

“Yeah,” said a short girl with big earrings. “She broke her ribs four weeks ago, but she’s still pushing on!”Bookmark here

“Broken ribs?” Rover asked, feeling angry. “What’s she thinking? It takes at least six weeks to heal broken ribs! She shouldn’t be doing this!”Bookmark here

The two girls glanced at Rover, but seeing who he was, they pretended not to have noticed him.Bookmark here

“Tch.” He bit his lip, watching Rebekah struggle to maintain third place.Bookmark here

“There you are.” Adele seemingly appeared next to Rover, Lumpy jogging up from behind. “Looks like we’re not too late.”Bookmark here

“What are you doing here?” Rover asked them. “What about the power ramen?”Bookmark here

Lumpy smirked. “Someone found a fingernail clipping in the other club’s ramen, so they forfeited from embarrassment. We’re taking a break now and will resume after this because we can still earn some money. I think we’ll sell out completely by the end of today because our competition is gone.”Bookmark here

“We would’ve won, anyway,” Adele said, beaming with her arms crossed. “We already outsold them by a hundred thirty-something bowls. Also, each member of the Super Club won two points, including you!”Bookmark here

“Nice!” Rover high-fived them both.Bookmark here

Seeing the racers zoom past, Adele said, “Quinn’s holding back, huh?”Bookmark here

Rover nodded. “Seems so.”Bookmark here

“Isn’t that Rebekah Paddaloonga?” Lumpy pointed to the cheetah girl. “She’s holding back, too?”Bookmark here

“I heard she has some broken ribs,” Rover explained with a sigh. “She shouldn’t be doing anything this physically demanding for at least a couple more weeks.”Bookmark here

“Rebekah earns her wins with hard work,” the girl with big earrings said, a snooty glower on her face, “unlike you, Rover.”Bookmark here

“She strives for true greatness,” the girl with braces added, “to be a rock star among the all-stars…unlike you, Rover.”Bookmark here

Rover’s face grew hot as he glared at the girls, but Lumpy tugged at his sleeve.Bookmark here

“C’mon, man. Let’s take the elevator down.”Bookmark here

Quintegrity rounded the last corner of the eighth floor, her arms out as she made airplane noises and laughing, and she let a boy and girl pass her. They gave her questioning looks as they huffed by, wondering how in the world Quintegrity had the breath to run and make those sounds and laugh all the while.Bookmark here

Rebekah reached the stairs leading to the seventh floor, hopping down several in an attempt to keep her speed. Suddenly, the boy in first place tripped, tumbling down the lower half of the staircase, taking the girl in second place with him. With a cheetah-esque leap, Rebekah cleared them, putting her in first place and far ahead of the pack.Bookmark here

“Morons,” she snickered, clutching the pain in her side. “Grrr…”Bookmark here

Several more students were tripped up by the roadblock, and many others slowed down to either find a way through or see if the fallen were hurt. By the time Quintegrity reached the scene, there was almost no getting through…for a normal person.Bookmark here

She kept her arms outstretched like wings, but stiffened them as she leaned forward. Taking a deep breath, the groovy winds filled her lungs and flowed through her hair, catching under her wings and pushing the rhythm into her sails.Bookmark here

Light as a feather.Bookmark here

Funky-fresh and free.Bookmark here

And she leapt. Her feet landed on the metal railing separating the stairs from the eight-story freefall, and she let the music in her mind propel her forward to grind the rail under her sneakers. At the bottom of the stairs, she kept to the railing, running along the thin metal bar in a daring balancing act.Bookmark here

Everyone was shocked and speechless as Quintegrity gained on Rebekah and gained fast. The cheetah girl heard the footsteps on the metal bar, and with a quick glance over her shoulder, was startled by the person catching up. Quintegrity closed the gap a little more when she cut the corner of the railing with a hop, still adhering to the weird technical rules put in place discerning the path the racers could take.Bookmark here

From the sixth floor, Rover could see Quintegrity above. “What the heck is she doing?!”Bookmark here

Adele laughed, slapping her knee. “This is why I didn’t wanna miss this race! Oh yeah!”Bookmark here

Rebekah pushed herself harder. The wind whipping past her wasn’t quite loud enough to drown out the sound of Quintegrity’s speedy footsteps on the railing. She gasped for air and winced in pain as she rounded yet another corner, but she couldn’t slow down to clutch her ribs.Bookmark here

The sound of Quintegrity’s running suddenly stopped. In its place came an uproar of cries and screams.Bookmark here

Among the screaming chorus, the loudest voice belonged to Rover.Bookmark here

QUINN!!!”Bookmark here

Quintegrity had fallen over the side when her shoe slipped—nothing separated her from the ground except more than twenty metres of air.Bookmark here

Confused at first, she soon understood her predicament. With her feet off the ground and arms outstretched, the air now had full liberty to flow past her, through her, and with her.Bookmark here

This was freedom, she knew, and it felt incredible.Bookmark here

In the midst of serenity, waltzing with gravity, Quintegrity put her arms out over her head, diving into the freefall, streamlining the aerodynamics of the groovy vibes she sailed through.Bookmark here

And she erupted into a blazing meteor.Bookmark here

“…Eh?” What else could Rover say?Bookmark here

Everyone watched the girl meteor falling through the center of the Big Tower like she was a piece of heaven tumbling to the earth. Nobody had seen that coming.Bookmark here

She hit the bottom floor at twice the speed of terminal velocity, the impact blowing out the entire first level and ripping a crater in the Big Tower’s lobby. A blowback of dust and debris was channeled up the open center of the Big Tower, knocking everyone off their feet before the force blasted through the glass ceiling at the very top of the building. Southbound Thugwood High School’s campus quaked and rumbled, then went silent.Bookmark here

28!28@28#28$28%28^28&28*28(28)28_28+28Bookmark here

Coughing and panicking filled the dusty air as Rover picked himself up. He pulled Adele and Lumpy to their feet, and they stared into the thick atmosphere, unable to see across the open center to the other side of the floor.Bookmark here

Rover grunted, lifting his shirt collar over his nose and mouth to block the dust. He bolted to the elevator, hit the button, but saw it was out, so he ran to the fire escape stairwell without a word.Bookmark here

“Rover!” Lumpy called, but Rover didn’t stop.Bookmark here

Faculty members were filing the scared students into the fire escape stairwell as Rover hurried past them. Teachers shouted, telling him to stop running, but he didn’t listen. He never slowed down.Bookmark here

When he barged through the door at the first level, he was met with even thicker, dustier air. Still, the damage to the floor, walls, and everything else was noticeable in the poor visibility. He climbed over the rubble through the wrecked lobby.Bookmark here

Quinn!”Bookmark here

Something soft grabbed his arm. Quintegrity stood next to him, completely unscathed, although dirty. Before Rover could react, she pushed her pouty face toward his sweaty face.Bookmark here

“Rover,” she said, genuinely disappointed, “I told you to call me ‘Quintegrity.’”Bookmark here

The boy hugged the girl, pulling her off her feet and burying his face in her hair.Bookmark here

“I’m not even gonna ask,” he muttered, “what the hell you just did.”Bookmark here

“Heh-heh…” She scratched her cheek with embarrassment. “I slipped…”Bookmark here

THAT’S NOT THE ISSUE HERE!!!”Bookmark here

She chuckled as more students arrived on the ground floor. Teachers struggled in vain to evacuate the building, but many of the students were too awestruck to follow instructions. They swarmed around Quintegrity and Rover, eyes bugged out, mouths open, wanting to know what happened.Bookmark here

Quintegrity cleared her throat. Everyone leaned in to hear what she had to say.Bookmark here

And she said, “Guess I lost the race!”Bookmark here

The crowd went out of their freaking minds.Bookmark here

“Oh my god, what happened?!”Bookmark here

“How did you do that???”Bookmark here

“The floor lost!”Bookmark here

“Yeahhhh, because the race was sooo important compared to this.”Bookmark here

“Shove it, Olaf!”Bookmark here

“Talk about making an impact!”Bookmark here

Enough!!!” Rover socked both Olaf Thumdiggles and Daremont Radclaft square in their stomachs, making them double over and ending the waves of sarcasm and puns. He turned back to Quintegrity, taking both of her hands in his sweaty, trembling ones. Uttering a nervous chuckle, the smile on his face was twisted by all sorts of emotions. “Seriously…what am I going to do with you, girl???”Bookmark here

She grinned, gripping Rover’s hands, and nodded toward something in the rubble.Bookmark here

“You’re going to explore with me!”Bookmark here

“…Huh?”Bookmark here

Through the clearing dust…beyond the rubble and debris and broken bits of the Big Tower’s lobby…down into the pit of the crater far below the surface of where the floor had been…Bookmark here

…was a door.Bookmark here

A big door—a bulkhead of metal that looked heavy-duty, like it led to a vault.Bookmark here

And Quintegrity was leading Rover by the hands straight for it.Bookmark here

*******Bookmark here

<<<STATUS>>>Bookmark here

Rover… Lvl 999Bookmark here

AthletaCom Points… 3Bookmark here

All Money… {T}63,100Bookmark here

Allowance… {T}62,100Bookmark here

Food Slip… {T}1,000Bookmark here

<<<EXPENSE GOALS>>>Bookmark here

Anti-Grav Skateboard… {T}499,999Bookmark here

<<<CURRENT EQUIPMENT>>>Bookmark here

Weapon… ScribblyBookmark here

Armor… FASCAR ShirtBookmark here

Acc. 1… Candle BadgeBookmark here

Acc. 2… Heist HoovesBookmark here

<<<SPECIAL NUMBERS>>>Bookmark here

#1, #2, #5
You can resume reading from this paragraph.